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Viasat drops more hints about super-capacity satellite

Viasat's plan to launch and activate a new constellation of ViaSat-3 satellites has been slowed by the pandemic, but the company is already discussing potential capacity targets for a next-gen broadband satellite.

That satellite, dubbed ViaSat-4, could be powerful enough to support capacities of between 5 Tbit/s to 7 Tbit/s, Viasat Chairman and a Co-Founder Mark Dankberg said Thursday on the company's fiscal Q3 2021 earnings call.

Artist rendering of a ViaSat-3 satellite. Though the pandemic has slowed down its plans, Viasat is working to deploy three new satellites  in the coming years that, together, will provide global coverage.  
(Source: Viasat)
Artist rendering of a ViaSat-3 satellite. Though the pandemic has slowed down its plans, Viasat is working to deploy three new satellites in the coming years that, together, will provide global coverage.
(Source: Viasat)

That would represent a capacity improvement of at least five times that of ViaSat-3, a satellite that will pump out at least 1 Tbit/s.

There's "big time design work" underway for ViaSat-4, Dankberg said. Viasat has not announced anticipated timeframes for ViaSat-4. Light Reading has asked if the company is ready to ballpark it yet.

Dankberg also hinted at yet another satellite advancement – ViaSat-5 – that could supply two times the capacity of ViaSat-4. ViaSat-5 is at the conceptual phase, according to Dankberg.

Talk of those plans come as the broadband satellite market continues to heat up amid the entry of SpaceX's Starlink and the anticipated entry of Amazon through its "Project Kuiper" initiative.

While Viasat has largely been focused on geosynchronous satellites that orbit some 22,000 miles above the Earth's surface, Starlink is making progress with its plans to deploy a constellation of thousands of low-Earth orbit satellites equipped to deliver high-speed broadband and voice services at low latencies. In an FCC filing this week, SpaceX revealed that Starlink has deployed more than 1,000 LEOs so far and has signed up more than 10,000 users to its beta program.

Subs slow, ARPU rises in Q3

Viasat ended Q3 2021 with 596,000 fixed satellite broadband subs in the US, up from 583,000 in the year-ago period, but down 7,000 from the prior quarter. Viasat, which also provides connectivity for several airlines, attributed the sequential decline in fixed broadband customers to "bandwidth supply constraints, sustained demand for premium service plans, and network planning to accommodate increases in passengers and planes in service."

On the plus side, Viasat's average revenue per user (ARPU) for fixed satellite broadband achieved a record in Q3, driven by customers selecting higher speed data plans.

"We're not seeing a slowdown in demand. What we're seeing is people choosing to upgrade services," Viasat CEO Rick Baldridge said on the call. However, he does expect Viasat to absorb a "slight reduction in subscribers for a little while" as the company looks to keep bandwidth supply constraints in check.

Viasat posted Q3 revenues of $576 million versus $588 million a year ago. Net income rose to $6.8 million from $6.5 million. Revenues from satellite services increased 4%, to $221 million.

ViaSat-3 update

The company also provided an update on ViaSat-3. That program aims to provide Viasat with global coverage through the deployment of three satellites – one for the Americas; another for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA); and a third for coverage of the Asia Pacific region.

The pandemic has slowed progress, but Viasat said it is getting close to delivering the first satellite payload to Boeing and now expects the launch of the first ViaSat-3 bird – for the Americas – to launch in the first quarter of 2022. Months of testing will be required before that first satellite is put into service.

Viasat believes the second ViaSat-3 satellite, for EMEA, will launch up to half a year after the first is launched.

Viasat and its partner, Boeing, will be hunting for scheduling efficiencies to tighten ViaSat-3 timelines, Baldridge said.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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